The short answer is yes. In randomised controlled trials, taking a multi-nutrient supplement for 8-10 weeks improved some measures of ADHD in both adults and children.
And it makes perfect sense when you think about it. Every component in your body (including your brain) is made from or made by the essential nutrients you (must) get from food.
If you don’t get sufficient, you won’t work properly. If you do, you’ll work better.
Nutrient sufficiency is a health imperative. And these trials demonstrate the importance of good nutrition for brain health and function.
It’s not all about the calories
When we think about diet, we tend to think only about calories and the macronutrients (fat, carbohydrate, protein, and alcohol) that deliver them. Such is the power of a culture obsessed with body fat.
For sure, the food we choose to eat is the biggest determinant of appetite control and therefore energy balance and body fat. And excessive body fatness may be the biggest health problem of our time.
But food is important for another reason.
Essential micronutrients. Vitamins, minerals, fatty acids, and amino acids. We often forget about these. And there’s little doubt that most of us are not getting enough for normal (never mind optimal) physical and mental health.
We need to obtain the right quantities and combinations of essential micronutrients from our food. But, unfortunately, most of the food we eat in the UK is very nutrient-poor. So, it’s no wonder that nutrient intakes are worryingly low.
What’s the solution?
The foundation of good nutrition is a well-planned diet of fresh, whole foods, including regular consumption of the most nutrient-dense foods. But even that is no guarantee of nutrient sufficiency.
Supplementation can be helpful and is often required. If you have an identified deficiency in one or more nutrients, supplementation is the quickest way to fix it (getting your nutrient status tested every year is a good idea). There are some supplements that most people would benefit from taking year-round – vitamin D is a good example. And a high-quality multi-nutrient (including vitamins and minerals) is a good insurance policy against gaps in your diet.
(For what it’s worth, I try to eat a nutrient-dense diet and take a multi-nutrient formulation, vitamin D, vitamin C, magnesium, and cod liver oil – which provides vitamin A and omega-3 fats – every day).
Now, let’s get back to the question in the title. Can multi-nutrient supplements improve ADHD in adults and children?
Multi-nutrient supplements for ADHD
In 2014, researchers compared a high dose multi-nutrient supplement (containing vitamins, minerals, and amino acids) with a placebo in 80 adults with ADHD for 8 weeks. And in 2018, the same group tested a similar multi-nutrient versus placebo in 93 children with ADHD for 10 weeks.
In both adults and children, there were significant improvements in the Clinical Global Impressions-Improvement (CGI-I) Scale in the multi-nutrient groups compared to the placebo groups. (The CGI-I is a 7-point scale used by clinicians to assess the change in a patient’s condition relative to baseline). The improvement was seen in an overall functioning score (CGI-I-Overall) and an ADHD-specific score (CGI-I-ADHD), and, in the children, a mood-specific score (CGI-I-Mood).
The trials included several other outcome measures related to ADHD symptoms. Some of these were improved by the multi-nutrient compared to placebo, but most were not. Importantly, though, there were no negative effects from the multi-nutrient.
Essential nutrients are, well, essential. We require specific quantities of each to survive and function. This applies to body and brain alike.
As we’ve seen here, a daily (high dose) multi-nutrient supplement appears to improve functioning in both adults and children with ADHD. It’s not a panacea. It’s not a replacement for medical care. But it is safe, and it does appear to help.
It seems to me that improving nutrient status (through diet and supplements) should be part of the toolkit for dealing with ADHD (and every other health condition for that matter).